For all the slog we've had to watch over the last few weeks, this one felt good. Looking to move on to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2013, Leeds United and 6,630 of their supporters traveled to Macron Stadium to take on the cellar-dwelling, hard-for-cash, once-proud Bolton Wanderers. Bolton beat non-League Eastleigh to get to the Fourth Round and have clearly had issues of late, but a win here would be huge for the side, both on and off the pitch.
The same, obviously, could be said for Leeds. Likely out of the picture for a run at promotion and having just sold Sam Byram, Leeds needed a win today to salvage a rough January. But with new signing Toumani Diagouraga joining the fight for Steve Evans' side, the tide might be turning just enough.
Leeds came out blazing in this one, with multiple chances in the first few minutes before the 6,630 and the untold number at home went crazy in the ninth. The ball found it's way to Stuart Dallas, who threaded it nicely to Souleymane Doukara for a shot on net...
And Bolton keeper Ben Amos made a mess of it. A pass neatly turned into a shot that probably should've been saved put Leeds up 1-0 early, and they could've easily turned down the pressure and settled into the team that we've seen repeatedly get out to early leads just to lose them by the end of the 90.
Instead, they kept pressing. Steve Evans went with the same four in his backline, but moved to the 4-2-3-1 that many were hoping for in this match. Bridcutt and Diagouraga bossed the midfield against the Trotters, and the combo of Dallas and Doukara on the wings with Cook as a 10 and Antenucci up top worked splendidly. They found each other for chance after chance in the first half, passing the ball often and opening up space. We really haven't seen anything like it in the entire 2015/16 season, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
That said, the error-prone back four tried to make it less of a one-sided affair with a few bad giveaways in the box. Bolton striker Gary Madine had a point-blank sitter off the head of Sol Bamba sail over the net and surely should've tied it at 1. Thank goodness he had, or this would've been a very different game.
Instead, Leeds took advantage and then Antenucci combined with Diagouraga for this beauty...
Toumani Diagouraga, with his first goal in three years, in his first week at the club, scored the goal to put Leeds up 2-0, and they wouldn't look back... until the 75th minute. So good for him, loved seeing him score and prove that Evan's faith in him was well-placed.
Really though, it was 75 minutes of dominance from Leeds United in a huge game on the road. Who would've predicted that? The Bridcutt-Diagouraga combo was the difference for me, and I want to see where they go from here in the Championship. #keephopealive
All that said, games are 90 minutes and not 75, and in the final 15, Leeds United made us sweat.
76’ Feeney with a chance for Bolton off a Bellusci giveaway, shoots over the bar. Whew. 2-0. #BWFCvLUFC— Through It All LIVE (@ThruItAllLIVE) January 30, 2016
78’ Bellusci makes up for it with a nice block off a Bamba mistake. Hanging in there. 2-0. #BWFCvLUFC— Through It All LIVE (@ThruItAllLIVE) January 30, 2016
81’ Leeds can’t clear, gave up too many chances there, Pratley puts one into the roof of the net to make it 1-2. pic.twitter.com/2Xk37vZiDi— Through It All LIVE (@ThruItAllLIVE) January 30, 2016
Bolton captain Darren Pratley put a pass off a corner kick into the top of Marco Silvestri's net with a right footed volley, and down only 2-1 at home with everything on the line, the Trotters woke up. They'd take chance after chance in the final ten minutes, with a chance off the post in the 88th minute clearly being the most nerve-wracking moment of the entire match.
Leeds held on for the victory though in what was likely their best-played match of the season. The back line was error-prone as usual, but the midfield was stellar and while Antenucci didn't score, his hard work and assist on Toums' match winner was superb. Lewis Cook looked like he belonged in the 10 role, if only we'd give him the time to develop into the position before Cellino sells him for yacht money, and Doukara, well, Doukara was The Duke.
Evans on Doukara: "If we'd signed him from the Premier League for £5m and he played this way then you would say 'what a steal'."— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) January 30, 2016
Well, maybe not that far, Steve. But he has been great, scoring his fourth goal in six matches across all competitions.
I turned off the radio today feeling like Leeds could take on the world, and I could too. It was that kind of match for Leeds fans, even with the rickety final ten. So we move on to the Fifth Round of the greatest tournament on Earth, and we pose the question to you, our readers: who do you want? Obviously we'd rather play at home, as the last two fixtures have been on the road, but do you want Shrewsbury or Manchester United? Reading or Arsenal? Peterborough or Chelsea? This is the beauty of the FA Cup, of course.
No matter who we get tomorrow at 6:15pm BT / 1:15pm ET / 10:15am PT, we'll be excited to be there. Vote in the poll, let us know if you watched in the comments, and thanks again for the interactions on Facebook and Twitter. #MOT